Companions’ Blog

Weeds and Wheat

Frances Drolet Smith preached the following homily for the ending of the Women at a Crossroads program at St. John’s Convent on Sunday, July 23.

It was the prophet Mark Twain who said, “There are basically two types of people in the world. People who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things — the first group is less crowded.”

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) also presents a dichotomy, contrasting two kinds of plants: one deemed a useful grain, the other a loathsome weed.

This story is one in a series of 6 parables Jesus tells in this section of Matthew’s Gospel, in which he’s drawing for his disciples, (and for anyone else who has the interest and the “ears to hear”) an illustration of what the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, is like.

This story is about those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world: the wheat and the weeds, the good and the bad, the righteous and unrighteous.

Now, those who believe there two kinds of people in the world tend also to believe, with all their hearts (and souls and minds and strength) – I mean, they really believe, that not only are they themselves the wheat, that is, the good people, the righteous ones; they also believe that they know “who” the weeds, the bad people, the unrighteous, are. And not only that, they also believe it is their mission to, pardon the pun, weed them out. And the Master farmer says “No”, because the truth is, there aren’t two kinds of people in the world.  The truth is, there are two kinds of people in each of us.

We lived for a time in Newfoundland and I am on record as saying to anyone who might have any influence, that I am a wanna-be Newfoundlander. And it is because of the kind of hospitality we received there and the profound, prophetic, down-to-earth, honest pronouncements people would make. I once heard a mother say to her son who was about 8 years old at the time and who was complaining about the unfairness of the world as only an 8 year old can, “Take care of your own self, my son. All in good time, God’ll take care of the rest.” She was not suggesting for a moment that the boy indulge in selfishness, neither was she implying that the boy had no need of God or that God would wreak vengeance on whoever or whatever had upset him. What she was fostering was a self-awareness in her son, a kind of personal reckoning that makes a body conscious of one’s connection to others in the world. As far as that mother was concerned it was not in her son’s purview to declare someone else’s grainy-ness or weediness. Be concerned with your own productivity – with what you are doing to improve life for others – God will do the rest, all in good time.

The puzzling out of our lives is sometimes a hard, even slow, task. That boy is grown up now, and has gone on, along with some friends, to tour the world. They will never make a fortune in what they are doing, but they are making millions of people believe a better world is possible through their music.

Trying to figure out just who we are before God and neighbour and what in fact we’re called to do to “improve life for others” is a full time occupation. So intertwined are our lives that it is impossible to extricate ourselves without impacting others.

And worrying about who’s in and who’s out, who’s good and who’s bad, who’s righteous and who’s not, distracts us from the real work God has called us to, for it impedes us in accomplishing the work of proclaiming – and living the Gospel.

With care and deliberation, a farmer plants good seed in good soil.  He has, in a sense, eliminated the risk of wasting precious seed. And yet he now finds weeds growing freely among the wheat.  I don’t know about your experience with planting a garden, but I know how this farmer feels.  You clear a patch of earth, dig and prepare it carefully, according to the seed packet, planting the seeds the recommended distance apart, and at the required depth, (I have a trowel with measurements on the blade so I can get it right) and despite this clever technology, the weeds still thrive. In fact, they are often the first things to poke their heads above the ground. And even after years of trying, I don’t always know which green shoots are weeds and which are not.

The servants of the farmer in today’s parable have a more discerning eye.  They recognize the weeds. And so their first response is to ask their Master, “Didn’t you sow good seeds?”  Their seeds didn’t come pre-packaged, with specific instructions – and they likely didn’t have (or need) a fancy measuring tool. Their seeds were gleaned from the previous year’s harvest.  And they knew how to carefully sift through them and take out any dried up or shrivelled ones, because if you’re careless with these details, the results could be what we see happening here.

Didn’t you sow good seeds?  “Of course I did”, replies the farmer, concluding that  “An enemy has done this”. “Well then let us rip them out!” But the farmer cautions them not to do so, for in pulling out the weeds they may also damage the roots of the good plants. “Let the wheat and the weeds grow together and we will sort it out later at harvest time.”

Isn’t it just like us to think we can control the outcome? Isn’t it just like us to think we know better than the One who’s made us and claims us? Isn’t it just like us to think we’ve a better idea, a more accurate tool, a more predictable conclusion? And haven’t we (hopefully) seen in our own lives that a body can change? That we can sometimes go from worse to better?

Today’s Gospel speaks to me of the wideness of God’s mercy.  We might think we can root out, get rid of the weeds, but in life, weeds are a reality.  In some ways the challenge of growing and competing with the weeds actually strengthens the wheat – as well as the resolve of the farmer! Vocation is not a coat you put on, but rather something you “grow into”.  Sometimes it feels like the wrong fit.   Sometimes you may feel out of your depth or in over your head or like the soil you’re in is a little rocky or needing nutrients.  Finding your vocation is in part to keep your eyes on the possibility and potential; all in good time, all in God’s time.

Today’s Collect bears repeating: “O God, patient and forbearing, strengthen our spirit when we are slow, and temper our zeal when we are rash, so that in your own good time you may produce in us a rich harvest from the seed you have sown and tended; through Jesus Christ, the promise of a new creation. Amen.”

Living the life of the sisters: Companions reflect on monastic experience

 

 

Companions on the Way participant Christine Stoll lights an oil lamp in the chapel of the Toronto convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. Photo by Matt Gardner

By Matt Gardner
Reprinted with permission of the Anglican Church of Canada

More than 10 months after a group of young women began living with members of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine (SSJD), the inaugural Companions on the Way program is drawing to a close—an experience that left a major impact on sisters and companions alike.

The sisters officially commissioned five companions in September 2016: Christine Stoll, Sarah Moesker, Amanda Avery, Hanné Becker, and Alisa Samuel, though the latter three were unable to stay for the entire duration of the program. During their time at the SSJD’s Toronto-based convent, the companions joined in living the monastic lifestyle of the sisters, devoting their days to work, study, prayer, and spiritual contemplation.

A typical day for the companions began at 6 a.m. with two hours of personal prayer. After eating breakfast, they attended morning prayer in the chapel before devoting time to various work projects.

Afternoons were filled with study and rest. The companions each took part in two courses at Wycliffe College during the fall and winter, and also pursued independent studies. Occasionally companions would contribute to a blog documenting their experiences. Dinner and cleanup preceded evening prayer and rest time.

Work of the companions

Reflecting their diverse backgrounds, each of the companions had a unique experience at the convent.

For Stoll—previously a teaching assistant in mathematics at Douglas College in Port Coquitlam, B.C.—work experience included gardening and carrying out tasks in the chapel, such as filing papers and refilling the oil lamp.

“I think living here, for me, it’s been good and healing,” Stoll said.

“In terms of discernment, I wasn’t expecting to have everything all figured out at the end of this year,” she added. “But I think I have a clearer sense of what it is I need to do.”

Having spent recent weeks debating what to do after the program ends, she is leaning towards returning to her work as a teaching assistant.

“Maybe the thing that surprised me about myself is that leaving here, one of the things that I’m thinking of is that I would like to live in a community, which for me is not something that I was expecting,” Stoll said. “I’m not planning to live as a sister … but to live in some kind of community.”

Moesker, a student at Canadian Mennonite University, described her time at the convent as “good, but hard”, noting the amount of work that is required of participants. At the same time, she added, “Working hard isn’t a bad thing. It’s really satisfying and fulfilling.”

During the first half of her stay at the convent, Moesker spent much of her time working in the kitchen. The latter half saw her providing pastoral care at nearby Sunnybrook Hospital, visiting patients and gaining a sense of their varied spiritual needs, as well as taking care of simple tasks such as delivering newspapers and watering plants.

She described her time at the convent as “stabilizing” and clarifying her post-graduation plans. As she concludes the program, Moesker takes away a renewed sense of spiritual discipline, appreciation for the value of closing her day with prayer, and improved skills in navigating relationships with others.

“I think being here and sort of being forced to interact with the same people constantly—somehow it makes it a safe place to figure out healthy boundaries, to figure out communication,” she said.

Convent life was particularly impactful for Amanda Avery, director of the Ready-Set-Go program for low-income children in Halifax and an Atlantic School of Theology student who is seeking to become an Anglican priest. She described her time in the program as “exciting, stressful … yet joyful”.

“It has been a roller coaster of a ride … The experience has changed me and has given me new insights and new ways to look at not just God, but myself and my community and the people that are in my community,” Avery said.

The majority of Avery’s time was spent at St. John’s Rehab with the sisters and the Rev. Joanne Davies, who serves as chaplain to the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. During this time Avery visited patients and took part in the hospital’s therapy program.

She said the experience tailored her to look at a different kind of ministry than that of a parish priest.

“Something I really haven’t thought of was chaplaincy,” Avery said. “The time I spent at the hospital with the sisters and with Rev. Joanne has changed my thinking of faith in the hospitals, and so I’m definitely looking in that direction … It gave me insights to looking at the broader view of ministry.”

Reflections from the sisters

For the sisters, the experience of living alongside the companions was a positive one.

“I think it brought us a lot of good energy, living with younger women, and opening us up to living with younger people,” Sister Elizabeth Ann Eckert said.

Eckert believed that the companions gained an appreciation for the nature of “a life faithfully lived, and the transformation that happens when you’re in one place or in one vocation for this many years.”

“I think it was a good experience,” Sister Elizabeth Rolfe-Thomas said. “Even though all of them didn’t stay and some of them had some difficulties, it added greatly to our choir. It was so lovely to have some younger people to relate to. We still have a lot to learn about how best to help them. But I enjoyed their energy, and each of them helped us in different ways.”

The degree to which the companions integrated surprised even the sisters. Though the companions were originally allotted time each morning to hold a conference amongst themselves, they ultimately chose to join the sisters at that time—an arrangement that “worked much better,” Rolfe-Thomas said.

“It was a little different from what we had in mind,” Sister Wilma Grazier said. “The idea was that they would form their own community within a community. But as it was presented, it didn’t work out that way from their point of view.”

Highlights for the sisters included the evening prayers put together and formatted by the companions, as well as an Agape supper chiefly organized by Avery but in which all the companions helped out.

“They all took part in [the supper], and it was a wonderfully profound experience,” Rolfe-Thomas said. “They put so much effort into it.”

Future of the Companions program

With the successful completion of the first Companions on the Way program, the SSJD now plans to take time to evaluate the experience. The sisters meet in chapter annually, and Companions on the Way is slated to be a major topic at their August chapter meeting.

For the 2017-2018 season, Companions on the Way will be folded into a similar SSJD program, Alongsiders: Living in God’s Rhythm.

“We feel we need a year to evaluate the [Companions on the Way] program and see if there are changes we want to make in it, rather than just flowing from one to the next,” Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert said.

Nevertheless, Rolfe-Thomas said, the Companions program will “go ahead in some form”.

For information about future possibilities for Companions, please contact the Companions Coordinator, Sr. Constance Joanna, at companions@ssjd.ca

 

Canada, a Teepee, and a Canoe: a homily for Canada Day 150

One morning, a few weeks ago, I was standing on a bus weaving its way into the center of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was crowded with people making their to work, or school or various tourist attractions. When I offered my seat to someone, a woman sitting nearby asked what part of Canada I was from. When I told her “Nova Scotia”, her friend said, “Ach, sure, you guessed right. My ma always said when in doubt always assume they’re Canadian, that way you won’t insult anyone.” I have to tell you I was surprised by the smug satisfaction that came almost immediately to mind – she hadn’t mistaken me for an American! (my apologies to those present among us) Frankly, I was  relieved that  I didn’t have to correct anyone or explain anything about what’s been happening south of our border. And yet, while I am extremely proud of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, of our welcome mat open to the world, of our cultural mosaic and of our official bilingualism, the smugness has waned somewhat. In the lead up to this 150th anniversary of Confederation, I’ve been increasingly un-settled, wondering what exactly it is that we are celebrating.

Just as it is easy to find fault with others, it is equally easy to begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  Yes, we’ve come a long way but there is yet a longer way to go. And Jesus calls us to that longer way, to that greater love, to that laying down of our lives if necessary, to that kinship so necessary to the Kingdom.

A drama has been unfolding on Parliament Hill this past week. Early Thursday morning, in a bold move described as a re-occupation of the land, a grassroots Indigenous group erected a teepee as a symbol of the unresolved grievances of many Indigenous people who say they have little reason to celebrate the country’s history of colonialization, land dispossession, Indian residential schools and forced assimilation. After an initial confrontation with the RCMP, the ceremonial teepee was moved from the edge of the Hill to a more central location, near the Peace Tower, where it will remain throughout the festivities this weekend. A spokesperson for the group said “It’s like a miracle happened for us. It’s a road for us to go forward in all the things that happened to our people. That’s what it represents. That door is open now and we came through. We’re being acknowledged.”

Later on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said  “We recognize that over the past decades, generations, and indeed centuries, Canada has failed Indigenous peoples. We have not built the kind of present, the kind of future for first peoples, for First Nations, for Inuit, for Métis people across this country. We need to be doing a much better job of hearing their stories and building a partnership for the future.”

Yesterday afternoon Justin Trudeau visited with those gathered — meeting privately with them inside the teepee. The activists later acknowledged that while there was not a lot that he could promise outright, his visit symbolized his publicly stated  commitment to move forward with national reconciliation efforts by meeting and really listening to people. An activist present at the meeting said his visit “Recognize[s] me as a human being, because that is the fundamental problem, a crisis situation that we’re facing here on Turtle Island, that the settlers don’t view us as human beings. What you take for granted, we’re still fighting for that right.”

Her reference to “settlers” unsettles me. My family tree  – and perhaps yours as well – is complicated, with its own mosaic qualities. I’m the daughter of a first generation Irish immigrant and a 5th generation re-settled Huguenot. There is rumour of a Metis connection to the Riel Rebellion there too. My discomfort stems largely from the realization of how little I know about our collective history. I was raised on – and loved – the romanticized stories of the voyageurs and their ceinture fléchée, running portages through the woods, carrying worldly goods from one body of water to another. And while I’m still attempting to fit those fragments into the bigger picture, I acknowledge the places I’ve yet to portage.

I came across a story this week that may help:  Christian Pilon is Métis.  Working with an elder, Christian has learned to build birch bark canoes and uses this organic craft to share culture with others.  Of the canoe he says, “the outer layer, the skin, white birch bark; because the skin is waterproof, just like our skin. The inner layer is cedar. And to tie everything together, we use spruce roots. Spruce roots are your tendons. That’s what ties all your muscles and your bones together. So this canoe is made in the traditional way. There’s no power tools being used, everything is hand tools. So, no glue, no screws, no nails, no ropes, everything is found in nature. For most people the canoe just looks like a fun ride – and that it is, definitely! But historically speaking, these canoes are what allowed most Canadians to travel into the interior of Canada. But it’s bigger than that. The canoes? This is relationship, relationship building.  Our families traveled in this. This is a gift that Canada received from my Anishinaabe ancestors towards my French, European  ancestors. We used to travel together in this canoe a long, long time ago. We shared that gift with the understanding that we would paddle together in that canoe and share water, resources and land, and along the way we kinda split up. And sadly we’ve had a rough last 150 years. But, regardless, we are still in this canoe. The paddle is out front, we’re still waiting for Canada to come back into this canoe and share this beautiful craft.”     

As a man of mixed ancestry, Pilon views the canoe as a metaphor for building relationships, and thinks of it as a powerful symbol for Canada going forward.

St. Paul calls the Colossians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; to bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, to forgive each other; just as we have been forgiven. He also admonishes them to clothe themselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Jesus calls us to that place of portage where we carry one another.

Human relationships are not perfect; in fact they can be downright messy. There is no “perfect union”. Yet Jesus continues to call us onward. Mosaics are made with broken pieces, fit together, shaped by the overall vision of the artist. We are indeed still in this canoe we call Canada.

May the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, to which indeed we are called in the one body.

Readings: Isaiah 32:1-5, 16-18   Psalm 85:7-13  Colossians 3:12-17  John 15: 12-17

By the Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate SSJD

Link to video and article about Christian Pilon http://cbc.ca/1.4176938

A Spidery Palm Sunday

Today, we had our usual 8 am Sunday Eucharist. However, being that it is Palm Sunday, it had a bit more flair! We had a procession through the little convent chapel, into the lobby, outside and around a tree, and then back into the chapel. People held their palm branches (woven into the shape of a cross) as voices tentatively warbled the hymn, “All Glory Laud and Honour” a cappella.

The cavalcade was led by a visiting Sister from the Chemin Neuf community in France. She was called “The Crucifer” – which, if I understand correctly, basically means she carried a shiny cross on a stick. I had the nervous delight of being one of the people on either side and slightly behind her, bearing one of the two “torches.” I thought I would mess up, having no real history as a “high church” Anglican, but I just copied the quietly confident novice-Sister who was bearing the other torch parallel me.

But, alas, things quickly became All Glory Laud and Horror as our troupe re-entered the chapel and we torch bearers stopped on either side of the podium in the center of the room to wait out the rest of the hymn and – what do I spy? That’s right. You guessed it. The very content of my nightmares: a ginormous spider. Marching, in good processional form, right up behind me.

I am trapped.  I abandon decorum and cannot be sure what profanity (or if any at all) is breathed out as I attempt to push it away with my slippered foot.

Never do this.

The spider grasped the knit wool and followed my foot half way back to my standing place before (Thank the merciful Lord) abandoning ship. It stumbled toward me again and I picked up my skirt and moved around it, letting it pass by; managing, this whole time, not to spill a single bit of wax or set anyone aflame. In fact, perhaps I was more discreet than I felt on the inside, because people went on singing, seeming not to notice a thing.

Needless to say, I made it.

And, despite my distaste for the thing, I was pleased that not a single Sister stomped on it. The worst the creature got was a bewildering encounter with my slipper and an unnoticed look of disapproval from over-top a Sister’s glasses.

Happy Palm Sunday.

Sarah Moesker, Companion, SSJD

Transformation

At the age of 30, I left behind my career, my lifestyle, my church family, and various relationships, to take up another way of life.  I felt a call within: a keen desire to deepen my relationship with God.  I wanted to be alone with the Alone, and to do so I hied myself off to an Anglican convent, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine, in North Toronto. There I was immersed in a regimen of prayer, work, study, and rest: living a more balanced life within a monastic community of similarly like-minded people whose ultimate goal is union with God. We prayed together several times daily, ate all our meals in common, and worked together for a common purpose.  I had classes and received mentoring to help foster my prayer and life in community. The various forms of prayer I learned prepared and opened me to contemplative prayer.  Contemplative prayer helps bring about inner conversion and transformation as we intentionally open ourselves to the loving presence of God in our lives. Far from being restrictive, the monastic life supplies a trellis or a set of building blocks to enable our hearts to grow in their deepest desire and love of God, and our lives bear the fruit of this prayer in our loving service for the sake of the gospel.
For me, contemplative prayer is a complete resting in God’s presence.  Easier said than done! Sometimes I approach contemplative prayer through lectio divina, which is a method of reading and praying with scripture.  In lectio I read a short passage of scripture and when a word or phrase grabs my attention, I stop, put down the book, and silently repeat the word to myself.  I repeat the word to help keep my mind from wandering as I sit in the silence waiting for the Spirit to illumine my heart. Sometimes I respond to the word with a spontaneous prayer arising from my heart.  Sometimes I find that the word itself has fallen away from consciousness and I suddenly realize that I have spent some time in silence in the presence of God.  Contemplative prayer has happened without my doing anything, that is, except for the ground work of being attentive to God’s presence in scripture, and continually turning my mind and heart back to God or my word every time I find my mind has wandered away.

Centering Prayer is another form of Contemplative prayer.   I begin my time of prayer with the sole intention of simply being in the presence of God and remaining open to God’s presence within.  I may take up a favourite prayer word to help quiet my mind when I have a hard time quietening down.  I don’t repeat the word constantly, but only use the word to help bring my mind back to stillness and my intention of being open to and in God’s presence.

The purpose of contemplative prayer is transformation which isn’t something we can do entirely of our own volition.  We rely on the action of the Holy Spirit who works within our innermost being to bring about the changes necessary to help us become more Christ-like. As with liturgy and praying with scripture, the purpose of practising the presence of God through contemplative prayer is to allow God’s Spirit to transform us from the inside out and then to propel us into our ministry.  Our ministry may be within the home, at work, in our community or in the wider world. The monastic life gives us the freedom to pursue our intention to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by giving us the disciplined lifestyle for intentionally practising contemplative prayer.   Those who cannot become full members of an intentional monastic community can pursue other ways to be affiliated with them by becoming Associates or Oblates of communities.  More information about affiliation with SSJD can be found on our website at:  www.ssjd.ca (The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine).

To read more about Centering Prayer and the Contemplative prayer tradition I’ve found Cynthia Bourgeault’s book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is excellent.  Helpful websites for Centering Prayer, including a helpful app to aid in your practice of contemplative prayer, can be found at: Contemplative Outreach, http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/; and The Contemplative Society http://www.contemplative.org/  with the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault.

By Sister Elizabeth Ann Eckert, Novitiate Director SSJD
Photo by SSJD

Agapé

The Companions have been such a blessing to the Sisters in many ways. Most recently, on Sunday, March 12th they prepared an Agapé Meal for us all including any guests in the house. Amanda Avery from Nova Scotia was the one who organized this event and prepared a beautiful bulletin for it but all the Companions assisted her.

The service began in the Chapel with prayer, praise and confession and some beautiful hymns: “Be Still and Know”, “Here I Am, Lord” and “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love.” During this last hymn we processed into the refectory where the tables had been set up in the shape of a cross. They were beautifully set with table cloths and flowers and a chair was set at the head of the table for Jesus.

We were welcomed to the table, the candles were lit, and the bread and the wine were brought to the table. After the Gospel reading, the bread was blessed and passed around the table. This was followed by a delicious Middle Eastern style meal, served by the Companions and our Alongsider Claudine, after which the wine was blessed and passed around the table. At the end of the meal we were invited if we wished to take a moment to pray with Jesus. It was a very moving experience and beautifully done.

Sister Elizabeth Rolfe-Thomas, Rev. Mother

The Joy of Ministry at St. John’s Rehab

Each Companion has a work assignment while we are living with the sisters. Mine is visiting patients at St. John’s Rehab, the hospital next door which the sisters founded. The time I spend at the hospital is some of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had in my life. The ability to work alongside a fellow Companion, sisters and other volunteers has opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the hospital experience. Sharing the time with Rev. Joanne Davies is special. I had never before known much about what a hospital Chaplain does, but I have gained a new appreciation not just for serving the patients but for the liturgy that the Chaplain leads.

hospital
Companions, Sisters, Chaplain and Volunteers on Spiritual Care Team at St. John’s Rehab division of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

But the most eye-opening opportunity I have had and continue to have at the hospital is visiting the patients. There are several stories/memories that I will cherish. The most memorable patients are those who have given more of themselves and taught me more about myself then I will ever give them. I have had the privilege of spending time with two amazing women who were diagnosed with dementia/alzheimer’s and coming to understand that I cannot bring them into my world. To comfort and support them I need to find a way into their world. And then I find they sometimes come out to me and even if for a moment there is a connection. One day a nurse found us singing “Jingle Bells.” She waited for us to finish and finding hope in the word “hope” was a magical experience.

Other encounters have been just as rewarding and the enthusiasm the patients have for life and to embrace their illness or their situation has been more than an inspiration. Each patient presents differently and as a spiritual care provider, I quickly need to adjust to what their needs are and how I approach them. Other patients have supported me and my needs more than I cared for them. Their zeal for life, understanding the reasons why they are there, and then using their hospital stay to the positive is just an example of how people can be so resilient. Knowing my time at the hospital is only a few hours each week, I make the most of every moment I have and loving it.

By Amanda Avery, an SSJD Companion, who has recently discovered a new gift as she leads a weekly art meditation group at the hospital.

Ash Wednesday GPS

Last week the Toronto Star ran a story about a  21-year old man who drove his SUV into the streetcar tunnel in downtown Toronto. It took eight people to get him out with a special crane that ran on tracks, and the incident diverted streetcar traffic for several hours during the morning rush hour.

But why did he do do such a thing the police asked? “I was just following my GPS” he said!
gps-1

I think Ash Wednesday – and Lent as a whole – is about exactly that – following our GPS, or recalibrating when we have gotten off track. But the GPS we should be following is what one of my Sisters calls the God Positioning System – not that annoying disembodied voice that hounds you to turn left even if you want to turn right, even if turning left is going to lead you into a traffic jam, or Lake Ontario – or a streetcar tunnel. And when you don’t follow the voice’s instructions it just gets more and more stressed – until finally it gives up in despair and says “recalibrating, recalibrating, recalibrating.”

Our God Postioning System doesn’t do that. Its voice is not pushy or insistent. Rather it offers a gentle invitation to recalibrate our lives, to look at what is really important to us and set our course anew. Ash Wednesday, with the ritual of the imposition of ashes, is a reminder of our mortality. We have come from the dust of the earth and our bodies will return there. But that is not the end of the story because we are created by the original GPS – the voice of the creating God who said “let us make humankind in our image.” God’s image is stamped on us. And because we are made in God’s image we too have the gift of creativity and freedom – the freedom to choose which GPS we want to follow.

The readings for the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday at first seem to embody two different GPS voices. “Blow the trumpet,” says the prophet Joel, “sound an alarm – a day of darkness and deep gloom is coming. Call on the name of the Lord – anyone who does will be saved.”

But then in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says “do not blow the trumpet”! Don’t blow your own horn to advertise your piety. Practice your prayer and your care for the poor privately. Go into you room and shut the door and the God who created you, who sees you everywhere, will reward you. And Jesus makes it clear in other places that the reward we will receive is not an earthly reward but the reward of an intimate relationship with the God who created us and loves us

So which voice do we listen to? Blow the trumpet or don’t blow the trumpet? Well, both of course.Both are proclaiming the same essential message – pay attention to what is happening in the world around you, and position yourself so you are grounded, rooted, in the love of a God who said at Jesus’ baptism, and again on the mount of Transfiguration, “this is my Son, the Beloved – listen to him.”

Call the community to prayer, Joel says, that we may repent of our preoccupation with things, with what the Hebrew prophets constantly call “false gods.” Call on God’s name, not on the name of wealth or power or greed or ambition.

Go to prayer yourself, Jesus tells us – enter into that place of intimacy with God your creator where you too can hear God say “you are my beloved son, my beloved daughter.”

Both these voices of Ash Wednesday call us to a holy Lent, a Lent that is not about false piety or spiritual practices that we undertake just because we think we ought to, but a Lent where the trumpet calls the community to prayer, and where the inner voice calls the individual to prayer, and where individual and community come together to follow more closely the
path of Jesus.

Sr. Constance Joanna, Companions Coordinator

Mystical Landscapes

mystical-landscapes-ticketA wonderful adventure awaited us as we had the opportunity to go and see the Mystical Landscapes exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario together with the Sisters. Not only did we have an insightful talk from the Curator of the Exhibition, Katharine Lochnan about the planning and organizing behind all of it, we also got VIP tickets.

I was excited. I knew some of the names of the artists; that made it all the more thrilling. I’d already seen some of the originals by two of the giants who would be there: Gauguin and Van Gogh. Of course this was going to be exciting, seeing originals by them again – and not only them – but also by great Impressionists like Monet and others.

I am not going to attempt to describe any of the actual artworks in words, for I will most certainly do them a great injustice by doing so. Instead I will focus on my experience and the lovely day we all had. It was delightful traveling down from the convent to the AGO in four cars; Sr. Elizabeth also did a very impressive parking maneuver down in the underground parking lot. It was a chilly day, but thankfully we were soon warmed up by enjoying some hot beverages inside the building.starry-night

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The time came for us to see the exhibit and peruse the artworks at our own leisure. Even though it was teeming with people, there was a curious calmness about the whole experience. I was drawn in by two works in particular: both by Van Gogh (Starry Night Over the Rhône and The Olive Trees). It was almost as if I became instantly happy by simply staring at these paintings.

The mystical aspect of the exhibition was interesting to contemplate in light of what we Companions are experiencing this year at St. John’s Convent. Personally, I felt very moved by the sense of community when travelling together, having a meal together, and sharing in the experience of viewing magnificent artworks in a prayerful atmosphere. Many had interesting insights to share afterwards as well. I am grateful to everyone who was involved in organizing this event for us – it was truly memorable and meaningful.

H. Becker, SSJD Companion